appalachia senators press feds for funding to combat drug trafficking

Appalachia senators press feds for funding to combat drug trafficking

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A federal grant program somehow doesn’t treat Appalachia as being a high-priority drug trafficking enforcement area, despite the fact that the drug overdose mortality rate for people ages 25-43 is 43 percent higher in Appalachia than the rest of the country.

“In Appalachia, law enforcement struggles to stem the tide of substance abuse,” wrote U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA), Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), and Sens. Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty (both R-TN), in a bipartisan letter to Dr. Rahul Gupta, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, pressing for additional assistance to combat drug-trafficking in the Appalachian region.

Since its creation in 1988, the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas grant assistance program has provided for greater coordination and information sharing among federal, state, tribal and local law enforcement agencies. These additional federal resources, allocated to areas deemed as critical drug trafficking regions, are essential in eliminating drug trafficking and its harmful consequences.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy has the statutory authority to create new HIDTAs and add new counties to existing HIDTAs once it has received a formal petition from a coalition of law enforcement agencies.

Despite the enormous need, historically the Appalachian HIDTA has only gained approval for approximately 30 percent of petitions submitted. In the most recent round of designations, no counties within the Appalachian HIDTA – which encompasses Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia and Southwest Virginia – received the sought-after designation.

“This fact, juxtaposed with the region’s manifest need, suggests strongly that the process of awarding needs to be revisited,” the senators wrote in their letter to ONDCP. “Counties in the Appalachian HIDTA would benefit from the expansion of this program into their communities and it would be of immense help to the law enforcement agencies serving them and surrounding areas. As ONDCP reviews HIDTA designation petitions from Appalachia, we ask that you consider the devastating impacts of illegal drugs in the region in order to effectively disrupt and dismantle trafficking organizations and reduce drug-related crime.

“We urge ONDCP to review its criteria to ensure that hard-hit regions like Appalachia remain competitive for HIDTA designations. We further request a written response describing the results of this review be provided in a timely manner.”

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